More and more I hear youth leaders referring to young people as kids and it is time we stopped. Kids is often a derogative term. The language we use is so important and, as adults, we have to be careful that we always speak with respect for one another.
You might think, ‘why does this matter?’ The truth is that we don’t want to use language that can ever come across as patronising or condescending. Calling young people ‘kids’ can often conjure up connotations that the young people are childish, don’t know what they are doing or we can’t expect much of them due to their age. It is a term which implies that we are looking down on them to a certain extent.
Kids is not a helpful term because it is often used to refer to our children’s ministry. Many churches now have ‘kids work’, where the implication is primary school aged.
One of the problems with Church and young people, is that we tend to see young people as an extension of our children, rather than, how the world sees them, as emerging adults. Ask a young person if they would rather be seen by those older than them as a big child or a young adult, and they would go for the latter. It is one of the reasons why teenagers experiment with new things, they want to be considered more grown up.
I remember when I was growing up I always wanted to be older. It is only when I got much older and started to realise the pressures on adult life, that there was ever a desire to go back to the simplicity of childhood. But this is not what we are talking about here. As young people they want to be older, the fourteen year old who looks eighteen. It is seen as a compliment to be considered older, it is not the same for an eighteen year old to be thought of as fourteen.
The world encourages young people to grow up fast, some might say too fast. What this does do is offer respect to young people that they can mature well and it recognises this growth. In the Church, we need to make sure that we don’t offer disrespect and have little expectation of growth.
Yes, in one sense my frustration over the term ‘kids’ is petty, but I believe it does hide something much deeper going on. We need to have a change of mindset about the role of young people in the church. In the Bible, young people are often used by God to speak to the adults, to speak God’s word in difficult circumstances. Do we expect to hear God speak to us through teenagers? I wonder if we refer to them as kids, we are less likely to expect God’s prophetic uttering to come from them.
Challenge your leaders around the language they use. Equally, I don’t think the term ‘youngsters’ is a complimentary term either, for similar reasons.
Let’s honour the young people we serve and use language that encourages them to emerge into adulthood in a healthy way, rather than use terms that imply that they are really only big children and should know their place in our churches.